The Moon Landing or Tahrir Square: Which Represents The Greater Technology Feat?

Autodesk CEO Carl Bass and DARPA’s director of information innovation debate the historical meaning of technological achievements.

The Moon Landing or Tahrir Square: Which Represents The Greater Technology Feat?
[Source Photos: Apollo 12 on the Moon: Wikipedia, NASA, Alan L. Bean; Tahrir Square: Flickr user Martin V Morris]

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the surface of the moon in 1969, it was without question one of the greatest moments in human history. But was it more important to our culture and our collective sense of freedom and empowerment than when Egyptians filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the dawn of the Arab Spring?


As part of this week’s bracket competition to determine the greatest geek moment in history, we’re presenting daily debates that include technologists, culture mavens, software makers, and authors. They argued the merits of their personal favorite geek moments over email. And now we present those debates, lightly edited, for your reading pleasure.

Daniel Kaufman, director, DARPA Information Innovation Office After great deliberation, gnashing of teeth and wailing we have decided upon the lunar landing as the greatest geek moment in history.  Not only was it a spectacular engineering event but it captured the imagination of the entire world and created an entire generation of young people yearning to be scientists. We are still riding on that wave today.

Carl Bass, CEO, Autodesk While the lunar landing is a completely amazing feat of science and inspiring for an entire generation of people, I gotta go with Tahrir Square as the greatest geek moment in history. The technology of the lunar landing was awesome but the technology was so in our face. Tahrir Square was the opposite. And like most great technical accomplishments, it symbolizes the building of one powerful technology on top of the other. It represents the integration of mobile computing, the Internet, digital photography, and wireless communications into the fabric of everyday life and put to use for social and political change. But for those 140 characters, the movement wouldn’t have come together so quickly, nor have been so responsive.  Just like CNN changed how the world viewed the events at Tiananmen Square, Twitter changed the way the world saw the uprising in Tahrir Square.

Kaufman All fair points, but I think landing on the moon had impact far beyond the technology–as awesome as the technology was, its impact on people will last forever.

Entire generations around the world watched as we strove to do the impossible. No politics, no money, just pure admiration of what the human spirit can accomplish when pushed. If you ask most top scientists who have invented the things we all have come to rely on what motivated them to become scientists, the number one answer is the moon landing. Even our vocabulary changed–to strive for something great is a “moonshot.” Google has embraced this and describes their most ambitious projects as moonshots.

Equally important were the multiple failures of the technology. As a world, we watched, rooted for, and cried when spaceships blew up. But most amazing of all was our reactions to failure: Not “I knew this wouldn’t work,” not “a waste,” not mocking those who tried. But rather a resounding roar of encouragement to try again and again because it was a worthy goal.


I believe we as a world need another moonshot. Something that unites us, inspires us, and motivates the next generations of geeks. We need something bigger than ourselves and more meaningful than money. We need a dream. We need to struggle, to fail, and then to overcome. That is the forge where geeks are created. Daring to do the impossible and knowing it will not come easily, but it will come through sure force of intellect and will.

Tonight look up. See the moon. And know we geeks put a man on it.

About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.